Our new Teen Autism Ambassadors’ main mission is to help out at all of our programs for teens and tweens on the spectrum that we will be holding throughout the year. “Improve Your Social Life: Social Skills and Having Fun for Tweens & Teens Living with Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities” is a series of programs at our library funded by the Autism Welcome Here grant. Recently, we held a training workshop for our newest ambassadors to learn about disability.
The workshop was led by Lisa Currao, who is also our program facilitator for our series of Social Skills programs. Lisa is a Special Education teacher who is also a parent of a teen on the spectrum. Here are some highlights from her presentation. Feel free to use our notes to train your own Teen Autism Ambassadors.
- Developmental disability is different from cognitive disability. People with a developmental disability learn at a slower rate than others. A person with cognitive disability needs time to process what is being asked of them.
- We should be aware of sensory issues that some people may have. Some folks will be sensitive to florescent light, for example, or become overwhelmed easily by noise or other outside factors.
- Sometimes, people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) will compensate for the sensory overload by engaging in stimming, short for self-stimulation. Stimming is a repetitive action like tapping that is used to self soothe.
- Lisa stressed the importance of using person first language. For example, saying “person with autism” rather than “autistic person.”
- Don’t force eye contact.
- Encourage them to join in the activities without forcing them.
- Specificity is key to encouraging appropriate behavior. For example, say “hands down” instead of “don’t hit” because they might only hear the word “hit.”
- Touch only to help them learn what they need to do or point them in the right direction.
- Most importantly, have patience relax, speak softly, and help them see that you are having fun so as to encourage them to join in. Treat them like one of your friends.
The workshop was really informative! After her lecture, Lisa encouraged the audience members to come up to the front of the room and demonstrate some activities that might help us understand what it’s like to have a disability. Here is a sample of the activities:
- To understand what nonverbal people endure, have prewritten cards ready with a phrase such as “I want a Coke” or “I missed the bus.” Have one person act out the phrase while the audience tries to guess what they are trying to communicate.
- Experiment with the Stroop Effect to experience processing difficulties. Click here to learn more and print out mini cards or use an online version of the test.
- Have a participant stand on an uneven board that requires effort to stand on. Have them read aloud from a book while concentrating on keeping their balance.
I hope you find this helpful for your library volunteers!